Competition Works, Consumers Win By Kyle McSlarrow Our industry’s largest gathering has finally returned to Las Vegas for the first time in two decades. As we’ll see on The Cable Show floor, the past 20 years have brought significant change and growth to our business. As exhibitors, speakers and panelists take center stage, we have much to talk about as an industry, and much to celebrate. While I may be venturing beyond the Beltway this week, I won’t be forgetting the key message we’ve been using to educate Members of Congress and policymakers: "When Competition Works, Consumers Win." It’s also the theme of this year’s Cable Show—our 56th annual conference. It has been through our industry’s work, in part, that competition, choice and value are shaping the communications marketplace. While strong competition is challenging for all of us, history and experience show that competition has made cable better, and consumers are the beneficiaries. The video services marketplace has never been more competitive. More than 30 million consumers now subscribe to a pay TV provider other than cable. Multiple video providers are now actively vying for customer loyalty, with each trying to provide unique new products and more services to meet consumers’ increasingly varying needs. It was only 15 years ago when cable had 95 percent of the multichannel video market. Now, cable’s market share is closer to just 68 percent. Competitors—satellite firms, the former Bell telephone companies and others—have jumped headfirst into video and are nipping at our heels. We’ve responded with digital features such as HDTV, video-on-demand, and digital video recorders—helping improve cable’s overall customer satisfaction. New ways to consume media are expanding and also directly competing with cable, satellite and telephone providers. Digital technology (such as Web sites offering streaming video to mobile phones and iPods) has completely transformed the way programming is delivered to consumers. Cable today, of course, is more than a provider of video service. While video is a key part of our "bundle," our lightning-fast, high-speed Internet service is the backbone for so many other ways in which people consume media. These new services—digital cable, phone service, Internet services—are viable because cable invested $110 billion over the past 10 years to build a fiber-optic broadband network with greater bandwidth. We were the first to provide American consumers with fast residential high-speed-Internet service, and others quickly followed. Competition is thriving in other areas of the telecommunications market, and one longtime "holdout" is beginning to erode: the market for local phone service. While, at last count, more than 87 percent of all households were still purchasing telephone service from their local phone company, cable is making strides as the first real facilities-based competition. We now have 10 million phone customers, and are still ramping up. The emerging phone market provides a huge business opportunity for cable and big savings opportunities for consumers. One recent economic analysis suggested that consumers could save $100 billion over the next five years if robust competition in the telephone market continues to develop. Competition has been good for our industry. We are not just surviving; we are thriving in a competitive environment. And, in Las Vegas, we’ll have an opportunity to show that the odds of winning are stacked in favor of the cable industry’s customers. Kyle McSlarrow is pres/CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.